More humorous short stories from Simon Rich, who’s been on a roll lately in the New Yorker. I like his style, which involves calmly building on familiar tropes until they explode into the absurd. On the whole, this series is good–there aren’t many duds in the bunch. But there didn’t seem to be many standouts either, and I think that’s in part because of the theme Rich has chosen.
“The Last Girlfriend on Earth” is pretty much devoted to boy-girl pairings, with both participants in their twenties and the relationship either coming, building, or gone. There’s a lot of good humor to find in the topic, and Rich does, but the organizing principle for the collection doesn’t offer a lot of thematic range.
My favorite stories were ones that changed the setting or the rules somewhat. We have a great caveman love story with “I Love Girl,” and God deals with the pressure of creating the cosmos and maintaining a happy relationship in “Center of the Universe.” There’s also a surprisingly touching story about the age and retirement of a boy’s first condom in his wallet in “Unprotected.”
But while Rich tries not to stereotype, a lot of his stories capture a view of women as some unknowable “other,” weird and capricious. It’s a view that will feel familiar to many guys in their teens and early twenties (heck, maybe even older) as they try to figure out the mysteries of dating and love. But it feels limiting in many of the stories, and a couple, like “Scared Straight” and “The Girlfriend Repair Shop,” give a real whiff of the locker room.
But all in all, the stories are funny, and Rich doesn’t seem to want to make anyone look bad. I look forward to checking out another of his collections.